Managing the Six Sigma Bounce

Jeff Cole

Change can be a messy, chaotic, disruptive, unwanted and demoralizing affair. Change can also be surgically precise, extremely swift and a long-awaited organization morale booster. The slippery nature of change is that one change can trigger both positive and negative reactions simultaneously in an organization—depending on one’s perspective.

In business, you can be confronted with big changes instantly: an e-mail, a phone call, the boss asking, "Can I see you in the conference room?" Wham—the change is in your face before you know it and you need to respond. Other changes unfold at a more reasonable pace—you see them coming and have ample time to prepare—maybe even help to direct the change. Which would you prefer? There’s a world of difference between a change happening "to" you versus "with" you.

The "Six Sigma Bounce"

Regardless of how it enters our lives, once a large organizational change occurs, productivity tends to drop and stay low until the dust settles on the change and then productivity rises to its new, enhanced level. This dip is a massive hidden cost to many firms. I call it the "Six Sigma Bounce" when it’s invoked by a large Six Sigma DMAIC or DMADV project. The faster you lead the organization to bounce back from the change, the less cost you have in that valley of low productivity. Resilient organizations bounce back quickly because they respond in productive, healthy ways. Negative attitudes and poor management can severely delay achieving new levels of productivity.

Psychologists such as Dr. Denis Waitely and others have studied prisoners of war and Holocaust survivors and how they responded to their unbearable circumstances. While a complex issue at best, Waitely shares one simple concept applicable to us in Six Sigma. We don’t control all of the changes coming our way, but we do control how we respond to them. It’s not Stimulus-Response. It’s Stimulus-gap-Response. During that gap we get to choose how we’ll respond to a change!

Tips for Handling the Six Sigma Bounce

As Six Sigma Sponsors, Champions and Belts, it’s up to us to work this concept on several levels: a) Since your role entails leading people through change, you need to personally bounce back from change faster than others in order to lead and b) knowing your audience needs to bounce back themselves, we need to make that happen easier and faster. Here are several tips:

  • Start Early: Don’t wait until the rollout stage to think about the human impacts of change—be thinking about the Six Sigma Bounce early on in the Define step.
  • Air Traffic Control: Keep an eye on all the Six Sigma projects on your organizational radar screen and attempt to time them such that the organization is not carpet-bombed with Change #2 as they are in the midst of bouncing back from Change #1.
  • Involvement: Incorporate ways of involving your target audience (those impacted by the change) in helping to design, evaluate, comment on, or in other ways create the change. That sense of ownership can significantly shorten the time in the valley.
  • Mind the Gap: Authors such as Dr. Ruthann Russo and Daryl Conner indicate that a person’s ability to bounce back from a change with a healthy outlook is linked to several attributes—being Positive, Proactive, Organized, Flexible and Focused (PPOFF). These attributes lead a person to make healthy choices during the Stimulus-Gap-Response sequence. The good news for Six Sigma practitioners is twofold: a) You can assess the resilience of your organization and b) the PPOFF attributes can be taught—with a little training you can proactively make your organization more adaptable to change. (Especially good news to those larger organizations peppering their workforce with dozens or hundreds of Green Belt and Black Belt projects!)
  • Work the Ladder: A future article will address the Ladder of Inference which is another concept impacting an individual’s perception of a change. Tied into the communication plans along with burning platform being able to impact perceptions on an individual basis along with mass communications is critical. In the meantime, I invite you to add Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline to your reading list—well worth your time.
  • Place Your Own Mask On First: Six Sigma process changes can impact change leaders too—similar to your flight attendant’s instructions for your oxygen mask, you need to take care of yourself first in order to properly lead others through change. Consider evaluating your own PPOFF factors so you can become adept at bouncing back first in order to help the others.

While there are many other tips in this space, these can get the thought process started in the right direction. While you likely will never eliminate the Six Sigma Bounce, if managed properly, it can be significantly reduced. Good luck!